Chicago Bears Late August Scouting Report
Training camp continues at Halas Hall as the Bears breathe a sigh of relief after nine false positive coronavirus test results last Sunday. The vibe from camp is that this is a group that is highly motivated to get the bad taste of 2019 out of their mouths. If I had to make a season prediction right now, I'd probably say 9-7. Motivation may be high, but there are still a lot of question marks. Double-digit wins are possible for this group, but a lot would have to go right. More news and notes from camp:
The biggest question going into camp was obviously who would win the starting job here. By all accounts, neither QB Mitch Trubisky nor QB Nick Foles has stood out, a scenario that HC Matt Nagy can't be very happy about with the regular season not far away. Mitch apparently didn't have a good practice yesterday, air mailing a few throws and throwing a pick (we've seen that before).
What do I think is the most likely scenario here? The former first-rounder Trubisky gets a chance to make his last stand as the starter on opening day in Detroit, but he'll have a very short leash. That puts Foles in the role that he's probably best at: the backup who's capable of coming off the bench and winning games. In terms of fantasy, whoever wins the job would be backup material at best, at least to start the season. Now, if Mitch takes the job and literally runs with it, using his legs to add to his fantasy value as he did in 2018, then maybe that changes things, but he's got to win the job first.
RB David Montgomery showed up to camp in noticeably better shape than he did last year, and he said that it's because he ate healthier in the offseason. He's now 218 pounds after playing last season at 223-224, and he looks faster. He also said he gets less sore now and feels amazing. Unfortunately, Montgomery went down with what Nagy called a groin strain (pending further testing) after taking a handoff and slipping in this morning's practice. He was able to get back up right away but appeared to be in a lot of pain and unable to put much weight on his left leg. Some reports said that he was carted off the field, but the team denied that and said Montgomery was able to walk off the field on his own. ESPN's Adam Schefter said the Bears are optimistic that David avoided a serious injury.
Before this injury, I had projected Montgomery to produce like a #2 fantasy back this season with at least somewhat improved line play, more of a commitment to the running game from Nagy, and more involvement in the passing game. Solid but unspectacular in a nutshell. If this injury does turn out to be serious, it would be a problem. A big problem. Because there isn't another back on the team who has proven that he can handle the bell cow workload that Montgomery was likely to have. Nagy said that he needs to talk to GM Ryan Pace to decide what to do about this situation.
If the Bears want to look at in-house options, RB Tarik Cohen is more of a joker back than a guy who can pound it between the tackles consistently. RB Ryan Nall is one of those guys who typically gets preseason carries but then gets put on the practice squad when the regular season starts. Undrafted rookie free agent RB Artavis Pierce might be best-equipped to handle a semi-full workload, but he hasn't stood out in camp (or at least I haven't been able to find any quotes about him). With Montgomery's status for Week 1 now in serious jeopardy, I think the Bears will likely go the free agent/trade route (i.e. someone like Devonta Freeman) and platoon whoever they acquire with Cohen/Pierce until Montgomery returns. Some have suggested a trade for Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette, but he might not be a character fit for this locker room and the Bears are still very high on Montgomery.
It's hard to know what to expect from Cohen after a rather bizarre 2019 season where he only averaged 3.3 yards/carry and 5.8 yards/catch. He's in better shape and he's in a contract year, we know those two things. "He's really dedicated right now and trying to be coachable," Nagy told the media recently. Cohen is just one of those players where... you don't know how many touches he's going to get from game to game, and that makes it hard to rely on him. But if the Bears can get more of a threat from the tight end position (which they should, more on that later), hopefully Cohen will have better matchups, more YAC, and more explosive plays. "I definitely feel like they’re going to have a lot of attention on them, being great targets in the passing game," Cohen told the media. "For the most part, safeties and other DBs will have to honor them. I think I will be mostly matched up against linebackers again." He looks to be in line for more touches because of the Montgomery injury, increasing the possibility of a bounce back season and making him a weekly flex option with upside in PPR leagues.
One interesting development here is the fact that RB Cordarrelle Patterson has mostly been working as a tailback during practice. He's never quite worked out as a receiver, so this switch makes sense. As I've often said, Patterson is a runaway train with the ball in his hands, and Nagy should try to get the ball in his hands more often. He still probably won't get enough touches per game to be a real fantasy factor though, as he's still learning the position.
The main thing you need to know here (if you didn't already know) is that WR Allen Robinson is a stud. With shoddy quarterback play in 2019, the guy still managed to produce like a #1 fantasy receiver, and Pace didn't exactly add any world beaters in the offseason to challenge A-Rob for targets. He's been dealing with an ankle injury since last Friday, but Nagy said that he isn't very concerned about it.
WR Anthony Miller is a bigger question mark. Yes, there have been reports about his improved maturity and attention to detail, but the Bears are bringing him along slowly because he's coming off another offseason shoulder surgery (he'd been held out of team drills until yesterday). As I've said before, Miller has all the talent in the world, but we need to see it on a more consistent basis. Is this the year that he breaks through and becomes a 1,000-yard receiver? I, um, well... let's just say that I think he'll have a career year. The fact that WR Taylor Gabriel isn't around to compete with him for targets anymore should help.
Rookie WR Darnell Mooney has been one of the pleasant surprises of camp, showing off his blazing 4.38 speed and making his share of catches. He's also displayed good route running and knowledge of the offense. Mooney looks like he'll be a contributor as a rookie, but not necessarily enough to be a weekly fantasy factor. He's a name to remember though. There's hardly been a thing said about WR Riley Ridley since camp started, which doesn't seem to bode well for him being a fantasy factor this season. WR Javon Wims and WR Ted Ginn Jr. aren't likely to produce enough to be fantasy factors either.
Lo and behold, there's actual optimism for this position group! TE Jimmy Graham, perhaps the most widely panned free agent signing of 2020, has surprisingly been one of the standouts of camp, looking like he's turned back the clock and bringing a swagger to the offense. Now, is he going to produce like he did back when he was dunking footballs over the goalposts with the Saints? I doubt it. But it looks like he should be an important part of the offense and a definite upgrade on departed TE Trey Burton. Keep Graham in mind if you're looking for a backup tight end in your drafts.
Rookie TE Cole Kmet has made a few rookie mistakes, but he's also flashed the size/skill combo that made him the top tight end picked in this year's draft. Graham has complimented Kmet's football intelligence and said that the rookie reminds him of himself when he was younger. Don't expect huge numbers, but he should be a contributor this year. TE Demetrius Harris has been solid but likely won't be a fantasy factor. Same goes for TE Jesper Horsted and TE J.P. Holtz (if they make the team).
The biggest headline here is the season-ending torn left ACL that CB Artie Burns suffered last week. Burns had been working with the starters and could've been a candidate to start opposite CB Kyle Fuller. With Burns now down, nickel CB Buster Skrine has been getting some work on the outside. CB Kevin Toliver seemed like the more likely replacement for Burns, but he hasn't stood out. The Bears of course hope that rookie CB Jaylon Johnson will eventually win the job, but the team is bringing him along slowly because he had surgery to repair a torn right labrum after the Combine in March. He's just now starting to get more reps, and he had a pick of Foles in yesterday's practice. He might be something of a longshot to start Week 1, but it's just a matter of time before he becomes the starter.
OLB Khalil Mack recently told the media that he knows he wasn't good enough last season and that he's challenged himself to be better. One player who should help Mack quite a bit is DE Robert Quinn, but the Bears are easing him into camp after he dealt with a personal issue. DT Akiem Hicks has been dealing with a quad injury since last Thursday, but Nagy continues to say that he's not very concerned about it. DT Bilal Nichols has looked good at nose tackle as he tries to fill the shoes of DT Eddie Goldman, who opted out of this season. S Eddie Jackson has been impressive as he tries to regain 2018 form. It looked like S Tashaun Gipson would be penciled in as the starter next to Jackson after the Bears signed him as a free agent, but S Deon Bush is giving him a run for his money.
In terms of fantasy, the biggest question is whether the takeaways will be there like they were in 2018. If Hicks is healthy and Quinn plays to his usual level, then Mack should see fewer double teams, and having three great pass rushers (i.e. Richard Dent's "rule of three") should help generate more takeaways. But the offense needs to do its part as well, because playing with a lead would allow the team's pass rushers to tee off more often, and that didn't happen enough last season. Experienced depth is lacking at corner with Burns out for 2020 and at inside linebacker behind ILB Roquan Smith and ILB Danny Trevathan. But with good health, this could be a top-five fantasy DST.
PK Eddy Pineiro hasn't attempted a single kick since padded practices started last week because of a groin injury, so the team signed PK Cairo Santos as a backup plan. Nagy said after yesterday's practice that the team will carry two kickers into the season (the backup would likely be on the practice squad). You never want to hear that a kicker has a groin injury, so I'd stay away from Pineiro in drafts at this point.
More to come later...
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